There once was a little girl who lived in Ontario, Canada. Makayla. She was just eleven years old when she was diagnosed with leukemia. As horrifying as this diagnosis sounds, doctors were quite hopeful that the girl would survive, giving her a seventy-five percent chance of beating the disease. As prescribed, the young girl underwent eleven weeks of chemotherapy. Unfortunately, her treatment stopped there.
You see, Makayla belonged to the New Credit First Nation and was brought up to believe in the power of indigenous medicine. Surrounded by those who swore by natural and spiritual remedies, she hardly had an opportunity to be skeptical. At eleven, children rarely doubt what their entire family swears is true. While undergoing chemo, the little girl says she saw Jesus and took that as a sign. She quickly penned a letter to her doctors informing them that she would not be continuing with her chemotherapy. Instead, she would rely on the indigenous medicine her family swore by.
Makayla succumbed to treatable leukemia just a short while later.
There are few families who would choose, on purpose, a route to treating a survivable illness that will likely end in death. Makayla’s family and the girl herself, clearly believed that the indigenous medicine they chose would be the best option to save her life. She died because of these beliefs and that is all they are, being as there has never been any scientific evidence to back up the idea that natural remedies can be just as effective as chemotherapy when it comes to leukemia. This was a matter of faith and faith alone.
One of the most common demands I get from religious believers when they stumble across my work as Godless Mom, is that I must “respect their beliefs.” Though the answer is obvious, I still wonder if the people who say this have really thought it through.
Let’s talk about the North American Man/Boy Love Association. I know, not our favourite topic, but bear with me, I have a point. To refresh your memory, this association’s position is that consensual sexual relationships between men and boys cause no harm and should not be considered child abuse. Just to be clear, when I say boy, here, I mean a child. We’re talking pedophilia, and in order for pedophilia to be technical pedophilia, the child must be prepubescent. NAMBLA members believe prepubescent children should have the right to choose a sexual relationship with an adult, and so long as they have chosen it, it does not constitute rape or child abuse.
These are their beliefs. These beliefs are strong enough for members to risk public disgust, estrangement from friends and family, inability to get any meaningful work, as they are open and outspoken members of this association. They believe these things strongly enough to ruin their own lives over it. Those are some seriously sincerely held beliefs, right there.
When I’m told I have to respect people’s beliefs, I’m dumbfounded. Must I? Must I respect Makayla’s family’s beliefs? Must I respect the beliefs of David Thorstad, who co-founded NAMBLA?
Do you remember Marshall Applewhite, who led his followers to mass suicide in the hopes of catching a ride with the comet, Hale Bopp? These people believed they would be riding a comet so strongly that they took their own lives for these beliefs. What about Charles Manson, who believed several murders were necessary to spark Helter Skelter, a race war in America? Robert Pickton, who murdered so many women they lost count because he was doing the work of God? The Yorkshire Ripper, on a mission from that same God, ended up killing eleven girls.
Do I have to respect their beliefs, too? What about my own beliefs? If I respect your beliefs, are you then to respect mine? What if my beliefs are that religion and religious belief is dangerous and that we should be as vocal as possible about the risks of living a religious life? Do you still respect my beliefs?
I’m inclined to believe the more likely scenario when a religious person tells me I must respect people’s beliefs, is that they don’t actually mean all people’s beliefs. They certainly don’t mean they respect my beliefs. Instead, they mean their own beliefs, because theirs, well, theirs are special. Theirs deserve respect. I beg to differ.
There is not a religion on earth I respect and there’s one simple reason: I value the truth. Centring your life and your core values around something for which there is no evidence is dangerous. It is, at the risk of sounding cliche, a slippery slope. These beliefs have inspired murder, child abuse, science and medicine denial, wars, genocides, discrimination and the stripping of human rights and these beliefs do not deserve anyone’s respect.
I reserve my respect for that which does deserve it. That which upholds the value of human life; that which values individual rights. I withhold my respect for people, for this planet, and all the creatures on it, and I will not give it to your beliefs. The very fact that you feel the need to demand respect for your beliefs from strangers on the internet is perhaps a sign they are not worthy of respect at all.